Living as far inland as I do, it’s been my dream for years to ride on the beach. My grandparents live only 1km from the shore but are sadly horseless, so I’ve had plenty of opportunity to daydream but very little opportunity to do it (except for once about two years ago when my grandma, tired of my complaints, flagged down a hapless horseman on the beach and ordered him to give me a ride).
This year, I was adamant. 10 days without riding? I’d be dead by Friday! My parents graciously relented and booked me a beach ride with Wild Coast Horseback Adventures on Saturday.
On the way to the horse paddocks, I was instantly transformed into my hyper 5-year-old self from years ago, nearly incontinent with excitement over a weekly lesson. Pathetic, I know. But I love my job to the point of needing it; it has always been more than a hobby and it is now becoming more than a career. When I sit on a horse I feel God’s pleasure, and I can’t help but feel that it’s a calling. I am called above all to love everyone; but I am also called to ride.
Being an hour early (my parents might have strangled me if we had to wait any longer) I got to meet the horses while they were being fed and groomed. I was impressed; they were lean and fit, but sleek and obviously well looked after. There were about sixteen horses of all shapes and sizes and had good manners with one or two exceptions. I wasn’t awfully surprised when I was assigned the shortest horse on the place. Judging by his teeth and the sprinkling of grey hairs on his otherwise dark bay body, I estimated Tutu (named for his brand, 225) to be close to twenty. He couldn’t have been taller than 14.1hh. Being tiny, I always end up with the littlest, oldest horses, which generally turn out to be extremely fiery once they realise they’re not carting a newb around. He was a handsome little dude with the remnants of splendour in his neat little ears, curving neck and powerful hindquarters. I have a suspicion that he was an old Lipizzaner, rejected from performing because of his size; he had the right build, and he had the right kind of brand. I was pleased to ride him.
We were a big group of 13 people with varying experience; I was a little worried about one or two of the riders who looked a bit newbie, but the horses all set off in an obedient line and newbs or no newbs we were soon navigating a winding deer trail up and down the hills at a brisk trot. (Best way to squeeze in a canter on an outride: Ride the shortest horse. Tutu had several little canters to keep up). Before long we were marching down a steep slope and onto the beach. It was a wonderful, warm day with a perfect salty breeze sweeping in over the sea, and the smells of horse and ocean mingled in the air.
To my surprise we walked over a short stretch of beach and then swung right, straight into the lagoon. I thought the leader had lost her mind. How were we supposed to get 13 horses to walk through belly-deep water? I needn’t have worried. The leading horse, a handsome skewbald gelding, splashed in without hesitation and the only problem we had was one or two attempts to roll. Well, I had the problem of being on a tiny horse, necessitating some quick gymnastic moves to avoid getting my boots wet. Tutu marched gamely right through the lagoon and we scrambled out onto the bank and into Morgan Bay village without incident.
Soon we found ourselves trotting down the quiet roads of the idyllic little village, filled with beautiful houses and white picket fences and small children that squealed in delight as we came past with the horses’ hooves ringing down the street. Tutu’s bouncy, exuberant, elevated stride (more evidence to the Lipizzaner theory?) had me posting in the Western saddle; I could probably have sat, with a little effort, but I was much too busy enjoying myself. We had our first canter up one of the hills and the horses remained in an orderly line with little Tutu snorting with excitement as we charged along, and somewhere around that point I reached a state of total bliss.
A steady trek up and down some hills and through a few fields full of cattle brought us to an utterly dazzling clifftops. I’d never really seen cliffs in real life before, let alone stood on one, let alone on horseback at the edge of the sea with the rippling ocean spreading out in all directions; the biggest thing I’d ever seen, and the most perfect royal blue. It was a little breathtaking, and a little scary, and utterly beautiful. It was only a small piece of the ocean, which is only a small piece of the Earth, which is only a small piece of the universe, which is only a small piece of creation, which is all held cupped in the palm of our mighty, mighty creator God. I could have cried at the amazingness of it all; of the horse between my knees and the grass and the sea and the sky and my wonderful King. Praise the Lord!
After gazing out at the sea and taking photos for a few minutes, we turned and rode back down along the clifftops. The sea battered against the rock with awe-inspiring power; spray clawed at the cliffs, then fell back in reluctant slow motion. It was enough to make me a little dizzy. Tutu, oblivious to the splendour, trotted after his herdmates in stoic obedience; he really was an awesome little horse.
Back through Morgan Bay village, we turned off the road and started a hair-raising scramble across a seriously rocky beach. Like, no sand at all, just rocks – smooth loose rocks that tumbled treacherously under Tutu’s hooves. I knew that he didn’t want to fall any more than I did, so I just sort of threw the reins at him and tried to stay as balanced as I possibly could. Without hesitating, the little guy put down his nose and expertly picked his way onto the safer sand.
We splashed through the shallow waves with Tutu giving the white foam the hairy eyeball before we came to a halt and the leader asked, “Who’s up for a gallop?” I may or may not have almost dislocated my arm throwing my hand up. A gallop on the beach?! Are you kidding?! Tutu was just as excited; he tossed up his noble old head and I felt all his muscles bunch under me. Leading one rider to look after the newbs, we gathered into a bunch and then we were off. Tutu was gentlemanly enough to wait for my signal; I clapped my calves into him and he took off like a shot without bothering with formalities such as trotting.
Lord, how amazing You made the wondrous world so that horse and man can fly together. I remember the splash and slap of Tutu’s hooves and the smell of him and the pumping of his neck and the churning mass of hooves and tails in front of us (we were left behind a little, but he was still running flat-out). It was terrifying, and it was ecstasy. One big grey had a bit of a moment and did a jump/kick/buck in our direction but Tutu rescued us by doing a funky sideways move involving a couple of tempi changes and a weird little hop. Way too soon, we were pulling up with panting horses everywhere and people wearing that slightly wild-eyed, white-faced grin you get after riding too fast.
The walk home was pleasant in the happy sunshine and Tutu was still as game as ever, although a bit tired by now. I was ready to go home to my own Horde and the wide open veld, but the beach ride is a definite bucket list item. If you haven’t yet, do. Don’t fall on the wet sand, whatever you do, but the wonderful place between sand and sea and horse and sky is well worth visiting.